Eco-friendly gift wrap ideas

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cookies mix with color candies in a jar handmade christmas gift selective focus

Image: Ekaterina Markelova/Shutterstock

As an earth-conscious individual, I try each Christmas season to give gifts to my loved ones that aren’t physical things. While I may be able to donate to a charity, book a massage, or grab an edible item for someone on my list, there’s usually a few people that end up receiving a physical gift. And every year, I watch my parents carry around a gigantic black garbage bag on Christmas Day, deposit all the gift wrap inside, remark at how much paper we just used, and take it outside to be disposed. I cringe every time I think about it.

What are we environmentally conscious individuals to do? During those rare times when we actually buy a physical gift, how can we deliver it to its intended person without slowly choking the planet with our excessive holiday paper? We can’t just carry the gift into our Christmas party open and available for everyone to see! Then the jig is up—your loved one will know too early that you got them a new organic cotton sweater! That simply cannot be. Thankfully, there are some eco-friendly gift wrap options to wrap your physical gifts this year.

But why is buying wrapping paper at the store so bad in the first place? Because most wrapping papers are laminated or contain too much plastic to be recycled with regular paper. Additionally, Americans create 25% more waste during the holidays. Which is scary, because we each create about 4.4 pounds of trash everyday. This does not even begin to consider the yards of tape, the paper name tags, and that semi-metallic monstrosity we’re calling a bow this year. Below are a few options to consider when disguising your thoughtful gift as a mysterious blob.

Don’t Wrap Your Gifts

You always have the option of buying a strand of wide-set burlap ribbon and tying it in such a way that the gift is semi-hidden. It’s vintage in appearance and will completely distract the recipient from peering through the ribbon at their gift. Don’t forget to let your gift-recipient know they can compost the ribbon after they’re done admiring it.

Reuse a Paper Gift Bag

In my upstairs closet resides dozens of brightly-colored paper gift bags that once carried presents to my husband and I. My family and friends all know that I will reuse them because I hate creating waste. All the same, I try to remember who gave me each bag, so I can avoid re-gifting them a bag they purchased for me. Some bags are too specific for me to reuse this time of year, such as bags featuring the phrase “Happy Birthday!” or “Congratulations!” To avoid having to do this, I’ve started only buying blank paper bags in hopes that my family will join my cause. These simpler bags still do their job by hiding your gift from its recipient, but they can be reused for a number of occasions. Only when they’re worn and frayed do I finally recycle them.


Every December, I visit my grandfather and ask for a stack of the newspapers he inexplicably keeps around after he’s finished reading them. Hate the smell of old newspaper? Me too. Just add a sprig of eucalyptus, mint, rosemary, or a pressed flower from your garden. Adhere the bits of nature to the package with compostable twine or tuck them in a secured corner of the now-wrapped package.

Recyclable or Compostable Eco-Friendly Gift Wrap Paper

If you absolutely positively have to have several feet of wrapping paper, trying buying some eco-friendly gift wrap that is %100 recycled and is recyclable. Make sure to buy recycled wrapping paper with soy-based inks, so they can be easily composted.

Use Twine Instead of Tape

Tape can sometimes be made from recycled plastic, but it can never be recycled itself. Avoiding tape when wrapping gifts can be tricky if you don’t have an extra pair of helping hands. If you’re wrapping alone and without tape, fear not! You can just watch someone else do it on YouTube to gain some useful insights on the technique!

Place Your Gift in a Reusable Cloth Bag

Etsy and Pinterest play host to a plethora of cute, reusable cotton bags printed in fun holiday colors and patterns. The bags can be reused to wrap gifts or simply as decorative bags. I received one for my bridal shower and still use it at the grocery store each week.

Old Boxes

Not only can old boxes (that are still in good shape) be used in your gift-giving, but you can also make handmade name tags. Cut a portion of the box into any shape you which, then punch a hole in it so you can secure your new name tag to the package with some twine. Your cats will be thrilled about the abundance of boxes, too.

Wrap it in Reusable/Extra Cloth

Do you, like me, have a box of scrap cloth under your bed for “just in case” situations? Well now’s your situation. If you have a smaller gift, place it in the center of your piece of cloth and tie it into a decorative bow, as described here or here.

Put Your Gift in a Jar

There’s usually at least one person on my Christmas list that I know very little about. It’s usually an obligatory gift, and while I do care about this person, I don’t always know them well enough to go out and buy them something meaningful. So what’s my safe go-to gift? Food. In particular: cookies, candies, coffee, or alcohol (when age-appropriate). Few people on this earth hate all of those things. So last year, when there were two people on my list that I didn’t know very well (an adult and child) I went to a health food store with my two largest mason jars and filled them to the brim with bulk cookies. At home, I added some ribbon and a handmade name tag and presented them each with a lovely jar of colorful cookies. This year, I might get bulk candy or a bag of different airplane-sized whiskeys.

Don’t Forget Reusable Name Tags

If your loved ones are fine reusing gift wrap and fabric, they’ll probably also be on board with using reusable chalk name tags like these. It will be one less sticker that ends up in a landfill this January. If you’re really pressed for time (or money), cut up pieces of cardboard in cute shapes and break out the colored markers.

If you end up being the recipient of non-recyclable wrapping paper, don’t let your parents throw that stuff away just yet! Buzzfeed has you covered with 19 creative ways to use leftover gift wrap.

As always, everything helps. If you still have wrapping paper in your closet then use it. Putting even just a few gifts in reusable bags or reusable mason jars can help curb the amount of waste we send to our ever growing landfills this winter.

Kayla Simon is a writer, minimalist, whiskey connoisseur, and zero waste enthusiast living in the Great Smokey Mountains. Find out more on refuserubbish.com or follow her on Instagram @refuserubbish.

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